Ashland winegrowers keep Pallet Wine Co. hopping

Business is booming for winemaker Linda Donovan, whose custom-crush Pallet Wine Co. in Medford is producing 29,000 cases this year for 36 clients — many of them from Ashland.

"So much new wine is coming out of Ashland," said Donovan, whose client base stretches into the Umpqua Valley.

She's made wine for Doug and Dionne Irvine, owners of Irvine Vineyards near Emigrant Lake; Pat Flannery and Paula Brown, owners of Dana Campbell Vineyards; Grizzy Peak; and Dr. Edward Kerwin of Monte Fiore Vineyard.

"He planted the vineyard a few years ago," Donovan said of Kerwin. "He has wine in production and he's building a winery, but he'll have wine ready to go before his winery is open."

Ashland resident Gus Janeway makes his Velocity Cellars label in Donovan's downtown Medford warehouse. Eric Weisinger of Weisinger's Vineyards also sometimes makes wine for a client there.

Donovan is the winemaker for her sister's Ashland vineyard, Valley View Orchard, and four other labels under Donovan's care were sourced from Ashland vineyards.

Her efforts caught the attention of Oregon Wine Press, which ranked Pallet Wine Co. 18th in the state's top 20 wineries.

"I'm pretty proud," she said. "We've been working really hard. I have a great staff."

A winemaker for 18 years, Donovan moved to Southern Oregon 10 years ago from Sonoma, Calif. "I kind of changed course and worked as a consultant while I started my own business," said Donovan. "I just kept working towards the dream. I love it." She opened Pallet Wine Company in 2009.

Donovan's popularity among Ashland grape growers likely stems in part from her natural approach to winemaking. Her philosophy is to intervene as little as possible, other than to control fermentation through temperature.

"This was a difficult year, so this wasn't an ideal year for really great fruit expression naturally," said Donovan. "A couple of things had to be manipulated a little bit, but on ideal years, the wine will literally make itself. You don't have to do anything to it."

Donovan maintains wine can't be made by recipe. The same tasting wine can't be produced year after year unless "you really manipulate something," she said.

Donovan said 99 percent of the wine made at Pallet contains no yeast or other additives, besides sulfur dioxide which occurs naturally during fermentation.

"We had a better harvest than we thought we were going to have, but it was still a very late year," she said. "We fortunately had a great October to get us through it, but I think most people will tell you the sugars are a little bit lower than we would have liked, but the flavors are really good. It's just probably going to be a lighter year, which is very French."

Because of the compressed harvest season, Donovan and her staff worked long nights and weekends, including Thanksgiving Day and Christmas break, she said.

"We're also working on a wine club out of Pallet and a tasting room," said Donovan. "I don't know when that's going to actually break ground, but at least it's back on the burner."

Donovan at first was skeptical that people would come to Medford to taste wine, but ultimately decided wine lovers would welcome a tasting room that could offer so many different varietals.

When she's not making other people's wine, she promotes her own label, L. Donovan Wines.

"It's fun to go out and try to sell that, and go to events with my own wine," said Donovan. "But I consider most of the wines here mine. I help them all along."

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